Meet Our Creative Team

Steve Cisneros
Producing Artistic Director, Co-Founder

Steve created Phantom Projects Theatre Group in 1997 at the age of 17, out of his parents’ 2-car garage. Overseeing the daily operations for the past 21 years, the troupe has been featured by and written about in Forbes, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, Washington Post, LA Times, and in publications from nearly 40 states around the United States. With a background in the performing arts, Cisneros has worked for Nederlander, South Coast Repertory, McCoy Rigby Entertainment, La Mirada Theatre and many more. He’s directed over 50 productions and produced over 100. In 2017, for his work in using theatre as a teaching tool for at-risk youth, Cisneros was recognized with the Ambassador of Peace Award from the Orange County Violence Prevention Coalition. Other honorees included a Judge, and a police officer, proving the power of theatre and the impact on young minds.

 

Bruce Gevirtzman
Resident Playwright, Co-Founder

Along with his former student, Steve Cisneros, Gevirtzman is co-creator of Phantom Projects, a teen educational theatre group that is wowing Southern California audiences, especially middle and high schoolers, with four powerful plays about teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, prejudice and tolerance, and his newest play about self-image.

In 1976, he began writing plays to be performed by and for his students. At first, they focused on general social and political issues, but it was not long before his scripts started covering topics sensitive to teens. What sparked him?

“Watching kids suffer. Their ignorance on these subjects was baffling. In ‘86, I was coaching baseball and some of my players were involved with drugs.  I’d get really upset and go on tirades in my class because it angered me that they thought these drug dealers were friends of theirs. So I wrote a one-act, 50-minute show, and we did it in all the classes every day for three days. We did a couple of night performances, too, and those raised about $2500, which we put into a fund for anti-drug programs.  Sometimes, I have former students tell me later in their lives what an impact I had on them. That’s nice, because you don’t always know at the time if you’re getting through. I get a lot of letters from kids, too.”

He is also a self-styled “behaviorist.” He believes profoundly that “everything comes down to a behavior. Not a feeling; not a thought; but a behavior. Love is the way you treat somebody, not how you feel about them.”

Does that mean that love is a conscious choice? Gevirtzman pauses. “It is. If love is a behavior, if love is the way you treat someone, then it is a conscious choice. I don’t think it matters if you say you love someone, or if you feel like you love someone; what matters is that choice. We’re the sum of our choices. We make good ones and bad ones, but we always make them.”  This is the philosophy that vitalizes all three Phantom Projects plays. Its empowering effect on teens and parents alike is making the troupe a Southland sensation.

The catalyst for No Way To Treat A Lady (Gevirtzman’s script) was the movie Kids. “I came out of the theatre and staggered over to the snack bar. One of my former students was working there, and she said, ‘You look like you just saw Kids.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I’m sure glad it’s not really like that,’ and she said, ‘Oh, it is.’ I talked to her about it for a bit, went home, and a couple of days later I had the script.”

This is heady stuff. Gevirtzman admits he’s a “moralist” who gets “judgmental, but only about people’s actions and only when they’re illegal or immoral.” It’s not the mindset one imagines would appeal to the average rebellious teen. So how does he do it? “I don’t step into their lives as some kind of personal guru. I don’t always know if I’m reaching them. Sometimes you don’t know for days or years. You walk out of the class swearing you should have been something else, a doctor or a lawyer or something, and those are the moments when you have to remember the one kid who might have gotten it that day. And this doesn’t mean a social or a moral lesson; it could just mean how to write a better paragraph, or make a better oral presentation or how to understand a poem.”

“In an English class, we’re going to read, we’re going to write, we’re going to speak, we’re going to use critical thinking. The mechanics of this can only be developed through practice and through interest. I always try to put the work into a context they can use in their lives. In my senior class, all the literature we use is from newspapers, magazines and student writing. We have to make you practice. We have to make you interested.”

And one way he’s kept them interested is with his plays.  The icing on the cake is to have found his theatrical counterpart in a former student.  He and Cisneros work easily as a team, each honoring the other’s creative expression.  Cisneros refuses to take any co-writing credits for the scripts, although he routinely tells Gevirtzman where cuts and rewrites are needed. And, when asked if there’s a “boss” in this relationship, Gevirtzman heartily blurts, “He’s the boss. I have no problem with that.”

Arthur Miller is Gevirtzman’s favorite playwright; Death of A Salesman, his favorite Miller play. He’s played Willy Loman in one production and Howard in another. Would he ever consider abandoning the classroom for the stage, especially when Phantom Projects goes “all over the place,” as it has begun to do?  His smile chastens. The classroom and the stage aren’t separate places for this man. He works with his audience every day. “You know what they say,” he quips. “Don’t quit your day job.”

 

Emily Rose Githens
Artistic Development

Emily has had a passion for performing and storytelling ever since she can remember. She joined the Phantom family in 2014 with the stage performance of No Way to Treat a Lady and from then on she’s been an active Phantom veteran performing in multiple roles, as well as, assistant stage managing, Number the Stars. In addition to her work at Phantom, she is a performer at Disneyland. Emily loves that both Phantom and Disney utilize the freedom of imagination. She is excited to continue her journey with Phantom to help enrich and educate the youth of the community through performing arts! Emily is currently studying psychology at Fullerton College.

 

Danielle Keaton
Education/Community Relations

Phantom Projects alum, Danielle Keaton has been a working actress for over 25 years! Danielle began her career alongside John Rubenstein and Brian Stokes-Mitchell in the West Coast Premiere of Ragtime at the Shubert Theatre. Since then Danielle has amassed an impressive list of television credits, guest starring in many popular shows such as: Without a Trace and Beverly Hills, 90210. Danielle has also worked with a number of talented actors and directors in films such as John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned starring the late Christopher Reeve, the indie film Traveler starring Bill Paxton and Mark Walhberg, Puppet Masters alongside Cory Feldman, and Beethoven’s 3rd with Judge Reinhold. Danielle can also be seen in the films American Black Beauty and Protecting the King, which she stars as the girlfriend of Elvis Presley’s stepbrother and bodyguard. More recently, Danielle has expanded her involvement in the entertainment industry outside of acting and most recently worked on the Warner Brothers lot as a Development Assistant, at the newly formed Production Company for Director Todd Phillips and Actor Bradley Cooper.

Jocelyn Argueta
Artistic Development

Jocelyn is a science enthusiast with a parallel passion for the arts and education. She received her degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of California, Irvine and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Her time is split between the research lab and Phantom Projects, where she first got involved as a a performer in 2013 through the Teens on Tour program, playing Maria in The Center of the Universe. She has since worked on multiple productions, both on and off the stage, with her favorite Phantom credit being The Young Artist Project, 2014. Having worked as a science instructor, Jocelyn confirmed her passion for education, and how the arts truly enrich curriculum. At Phantom Projects, she is inspired by the aim to make professional theatre accessible and to motivate youth toward positive and creative change. She works to further Phantom’s mission of arts education by coordinating community engagement, fundraising efforts, and program development.

Timothy P. Thorn, Resident Director

Having begun his theatre career in educational theatre, Tim is thrilled to be a new member of the Phantom Projects Theatre Group family. Educating through theatre has been a focus his entire life and believes TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD teaches a valuable lesson for some and a much needed reminder for others.

Educating youth through performance, Tim toured with The Lilliput Players, The Imagination Machine, True Colors, and You Need to Read. He has also performed with children for multiple educational youth theatre groups including First Artist Children’s Theatre, Children’s Theatre Experience and Musical Youth Artist Repertory Theatre (MYART). He has also taught theatre through multiple school districts throughout California including Fullerton’s, All the Arts for All the Kids program, various after school programs, as well as, Orange County High School for the Arts.

 

Tim directed his first show, LUV, at 20 for L.P. R. Dinner Theatre in Tustin where he served as Art Director. He followed that with NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. As a founding member of MYART, now in its 26th year, Tim served as Assistant Artistic Director as well as Resident Director of MYART northern California. With MYART, Tim directed, choreographed, designed and painted on many productions including ANNIE, OLIVER, SOUND OF MUSIC, and PETER PAN, WEST SIDE STORY, GREASE. He also co-wrote and directed the original MYART production, Best of Broadway. Last year Tim directed OLIVER (MYART-Studio) and directed and designed THE LION IN WINTER at Costa Mesa Playhouse.

Tim has designed, built and/or painted multiple productions including GUYS AND DOLLS (La Habra Depot), ALICE IN WONDERLAND/ANNIE/WIZARD OF OZ (MYART), MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS (Long Beach Playhouse), OLD BLACK MAGIC and INTIMATELY WILDE (Olio Theatre Works), WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(CMPH) and Peter Pan (ESCAPE-Youth Theatre). He also served as Art Director for the former L.P. Repertory Dinner Theater in Tustin.

Beyond educational theatre, some of his favorite roles include Don Quixote (QUIXOTE), Nathan Detroit (GUYS and DOLLS), Scrooge (A CHRISTMAS CAROL), Brian (THE SHADOW BOX), Laurence Olivier (ORSON’S SHADOW), George (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF?), Oberon (MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM), Fagin (OLIVER).

Tim is currently a member of Olio Theatre Works, where he originated the roles of John Barrymore in the original musical, OLD BLACK MAGIC and a role written for him, Oscar Wilde in INTIMATELY WILDE.

Sarah Timm
Resident Costume Designer

Sarah has been with Phantom Projects since 2015! She has also served as Assistant Costume Designer on numerous productions at South Coast Repertory. Other work includes Julius Caesar at Santa Ana College and Little Women at the Chance Theatre (as Assistant). In addition to overseeing the extensive Phantom Projects costume inventoryshe works in the costume shops at both South Coast Repertory and UC Irvine as professional stitcher and technician. Sarah received her training at FIDM/the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and is the co-founder of Glimmer Face Painting.